More than a year on since the devastating invasion of Ukraine and as we mark International Women’s Day, we speak to Inna Rengach who fled her home country with her little girl, not quite knowing what would lie ahead.
“It’s still hard,” Inna began, as she tried to hold back her emotions.
Waking at 5am on 24 February 2022 to an explosion in the distance is something Inna could never have imagined, and the months that followed were something she could never have prepared for.
“My daughter was sleeping in her bed, she was very peaceful,” said Inna. “Something inside me knew something had happened.”
She added: “It was very horrible. I do not know how to explain my worries and anxiety. I did not know what to do. Nobody told me what to do.
“My husband went to work. I started to pack my suitcases. My whole life was in two suitcases.
“I had only the TV and Facebook to know what was going on. I was waiting for advice from the Government and was very scared,” said the now 39-year-old.
After a stay with her parents and having to leave her husband Paul behind to continue working in her home city, Odessa, Inna made the huge decision to leave Ukraine with her daughter. “I woke up and told my parents I did not want to stay,” she said. “I worried about my daughter. Russian soldiers kill children and whole families. I was scared for her future.”
Inna moved to North East Lincolnshire on 24 May 2022 with her now five-year-old daughter, Masha. Her family, including her husband, parents and brother, remain in Ukraine.
“It’s important me and Masha feel free and safe,” said Inna. “I really enjoy seeing her play with her close friends here, and at soft play. We have a free life without attack and panic, with no sirens. I am a very happy lady. For us, today, being here.”
“Every day, it’s a new journey. Only nine months has passed, but I feel I have been here longer,” she said.
Inna could not speak more highly of her host family for taking her in. “They are a very helpful and reliable family,” she said. “With a five-year-old too, her and Masha are like sisters. Their daughter helps Masha. Masha never spoke English, but she is learning well.”
In September 2022, Inna began her role at North East Lincolnshire Council as a refugee integration support officer, liaising with families that have moved to the area from Ukraine. She provides support, and helps with their language and ensures each person feels listened to, heard and understood.
“My job is to help people and support them,” said Inna. “I don’t want them to feel alone, I want them to feel they have support. I help people to start their new life and improve their language. I am really lucky to work with such a supportive and helpful team here at North East Lincolnshire Council.”
Inna continues to stay strong and have hope for her home country: “One day, sooner or later, Ukraine will be completely free and there will be a victory in this war.
“Слава Україні! ‘Glory to Ukraine’. Героям слава! ‘Glory to the heroes.”
To date, our borough has hosted 86 Ukrainian refugees in total, with 73 currently remaining here.
North East Lincolnshire continues to welcome more families and will continue to do so as our generous community continues to open up their homes.
To mark the anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine, a one-minute silence, led by the Worshipful the Mayor of North East Lincolnshire, was held outside Grimsby Town Hall on Friday 24 February. The Ukrainian flag continues to fly, as it has since the invasion.